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SUPERACTIVE KIDS

I am frequently asked by parents and child care workers why there are so many “hyper” preschoolers today.

We all know such kids. Most of them are little boys who rarely sit still, spring from place to place rather than walk, squirm rather than sit and play, seem to be easily bored, go from one activity to another with the speed of light, and have great difficulty self-calming or self-entertaining.

In other words they act like whirlwinds and the havoc they cause at home or in preschool can seem like a tornado touching down.

I’m not talking about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I’m talking about normal, albeit sometimes impossible, preschoolers.

ALL preschoolers exhibit some of these behaviors some of the time. Running and squirming and jumping and darting from activity to activity is a preschoolers’s job description. But these kids have too many of these behaviors too much of the time.

Why this “epidemic”? I have no idea, nor do I know why boys are more likely to catch this “whirlwind virus.” But I suspect from observing preschoolers and talking with parents that both the way we parent and the way we live today — the environment in which we raise our children — could be contributing factors.

THE WAY WE PARENT

Too many parents are guilty of what I call OVERPARENTING. They pay too much attention to their children, overstimulate them, and rarely leave them by themselves.

Some parents constantly hover over their children and are involved in every moment of their children’s lives. This sounds like the ultimate in parental devotion but there is a real downside. These parents don’t give their children a chance to calm down by themselves or self-entertain, or even play by themselves.

Some parents can’t bear to see their child unhappy even for a moment. The first frown, or whine or any hint of discontent and the parent jumps in. Such parents have actually told me they think their job is to keep their children happy. WRONG! Let me remind readers of the five things parents cannot make their children do: eat, fall asleep, poop, feel happy, or turn out the way we dream they will. And even if we could make our children feel happy they have to figure out how to make themselves happy when we’re no longer around.

We all know parents who OVERINDULGE. Most of us do this to a degree at birthdays and holidays. But the habitually overindulgent parent seems to think that “things” equal love. Further, they are convinced that buying educational toys will help their child become a future academic success.

Finally, those who overparent also UNDER-DISCIPLINE because such parents feel they can convince a preschooler to stop hitting a sibling by reasoning with the kid.

I think overparenting starts out as GOOD PARENTING. These parents really want to meet their child’s every need. They are determined to do everything they can for this child, a conscious and commendable goal.

But good parenting can easily morph into overparenting. Some of these parents are afraid they won’t be a good enough parent so they overdo it or try too hard. Some are meeting their own needs to be perfect in parenting as in everything else. Some are trying to make up for their own deprived childhood.

Many of these parents are unaware of the child’s developmental needs and unique personality. And many are thinking short-term instead of long-term — what the child wants now instead of what the child needs in the future.

THE WAY WE LIVE

What about the way we live today, the way our homes look and sound? Let’s face it, most homes today are HECTIC.

We live at too fast a pace for young children. They may run instead of walk by choice but they hate to be rushed because a grown-up is late.

And our homes are too noisy. Toys beep or screech or repeatedly talk and some are exceedingly difficult to shut up. Maybe kids want a teddy bear or a Barney just to cuddle. The TV, radio, phone, beeper, computer, microwave — everything makes noises at us.

Between the brightly-colored toys, the hectic pace and the noise, our kids don’t get something most of us long for: peace and quiet.

Suggestions for parents who have a preschooler whirlwind: slow down, quiet down, use fewer words, discipline effectively and consistently, and put at least half of the toys away. You could be pleasantly surprised at the effect this has.

In addition, devise lots of quiet times at your house: reading, singing quiet songs, listening to soft and soothing music together. If the child starts acting like a whirlwind softly say, “It’s time to caaaalm down.” Then both of you should lie down on the floor and take a deep-breathing relaxation break. I suspect decreasing the noise and pace will work at preschools too.

Note: I am NOT telling you parents out there to ignore or neglect your children, leave them to fend for themselves all the time, or use this column as an excuse to park the kids with a sitter and go on a cruise around the world. Just cool some of the overparenting stuff.

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